House of Commons Hansard #98 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was seniors.

Topics

Outremont
Vacancy

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Order. It is my duty to inform the House that a vacancy has occurred in the representation, namely: Mr. Jean C. Lapierre, member for the electoral district of Outremont, by resignation effective January 28, 2007.

Pursuant to subsection 25(1)(b) of the Parliament of Canada Act, I have addressed earlier today my warrant to the Chief Electoral Office for the issue of a writ for the election of a member to fill this vacancy.

Board of Internal Economy

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I have the honour to inform the House that Mr. Peter Van Loan, member for the electoral district of York—Simcoe, has been appointed as a member of the Board of Internal Economy in place of Mr. Rob Nicholson, member for the electoral district of Niagara Falls.

Message from the Senate

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed certain bills, to which the concurrence of this House is desired.

It being 11:05 a.m., the House will proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Bloc

Meili Faille Vaudreuil-Soulanges, QC

moved that Bill C-280, An Act to Amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (coming into force of sections 110, 111 and 171), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-280, which I introduced on May 12 for my hon. colleague from Vaudreuil-Soulanges.

First off, however, I would like to take this opportunity to wish a happy new year to my hon. colleagues, Parliament Hill employees and all my constituents in Laval.

This bill would implement the refugee appeal division. The Bloc Québécois has to put this bill forward to have a provision of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act come into force, which is rather ironic.

A proper appeal process for refugee claimants ought to have been put in place as soon as the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act enacted in 2002 took effect. This is one of the significant changes required to ensure that asylum seekers are treated fairly and equitably. To persist in not making this change is to allow a situation that is unfair to asylum seekers to continue.

To illustrate, I have some examples to share of people who are experiencing or have experienced difficulties in recent years because the refugee appeal division was not in force. Pierre Gauthier from the refugee outreach committee of St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church in Ottawa appeared before the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration on November 2, 2006. He reported that, for more than 16 years, the refugee outreach committee of St. Joseph's Parish on Laurier Avenue in Ottawa has been helping newly arrived refugees in Canada's capital area.

In 2005, they helped a woman who had applied for refugee status and who was ordered deported without a complete and just hearing. After spending a year in a sanctuary with their help, Maoua Diomande was authorized to remain in Canada. Once all the facts had been uncovered, the minister decided to issue the permit on compassionate grounds.

At present, religious institutions are forced to offer sanctuary only because the refugee determination system is not working properly. Countless other refugee status claimants—hundreds and maybe even thousands—have been turned down by Canada because they did not have the opportunity to fully present their case.

The case of Samsu Mia, who lived in sanctuary at First Unitarian for 18 months, illustrates some of the problems encountered within Canada's citizenship and immigration system.

Mr. Mia came to Canada in 1995 as a domestic employee of a senior official in the Bangladeshi High Commission. He was treated as a slave. His wages were withheld. He was not given his contractual trips home. He had to sleep on the floor, and his shoes and passport were confiscated. In 1999 he escaped and attempted to recover his wages and passport.

He, his family at home, and his Canadian rescuer, were all threatened. Mr. Mia's initial refugee claim was turned down by a single judge on the grounds that this was simply a personal dispute between two individuals. The judge ignored the fact that one individual was an illiterate cook and the other a powerful official.

Shortly after he was turned down, Mr. Mia's brother in Bangladesh was threatened by a different official, who had been transferred home from Canada. This was new evidence, and evidence of continuing danger, but there was no way to present it under present procedures.

In 2001 his son in Bangladesh was beaten and admonished to “Tell your father to be quiet and go home”.

In March 2003, the pre-removal risk assessment noted that this beating was not documented. The result was a removal order. It would have been better if a decision on removal had been delayed to allow time to document the son's beating.

With the help of one of our contacts, a Canadian who operates several orphanages in Bangladesh, documentation was finally obtained, but it took some time. However, there was no procedure in place to allow him to present this new evidence; the decision had been taken.

It does happen that a refugee may not be able to produce such evidence; whether more time is required or because someone did not understand in time the need for that evidence. There should be an appeal process and a process than makes it possible to present new evidence. The final decision should not depend upon religious institutions or the compassion of the minister. Justice should be rendered without the necessity to call on the intervention of strong and well-organized pressure groups.

Finally, Mr. Mia received permission to remain in Canada. However, he must deal with numerous administrative complications.

The federal government maintains that a safety net already exists by virtue of the opportunity to request a pre-removal risk assessment, through judicial review by the Federal Court and through a request for permanent resident status on humanitarian grounds. These do not in any way offer refugees the protective measures that the refuge appeal division would provide. The Federal Court provides only for a judicial review and does not provide for a review of the facts of a case. Since the Conservative party came to power, neither the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development nor the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration have established the division, even though in the past the Conservative party had supported all demands for that to be done.

Many groups in civil society in Quebec, across Canada and in the international community have called for establishment of the RAD. Among these are the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United States Committee against Torture, the Canadian Council for Refugees, the Canadian Bar Association, Amnesty international, la Ligue des droits et libertés and the KAIROS group.

There are four reasons why the refugee appeal division should be established. The first is efficiency. In dealing with applicants who have been denied refugee status it is more efficient than the Federal Court for pre-removal risk assessment or applications on humanitarian grounds. The second reason is the improved uniformity in the law to ensure unified jurisprudence, in terms of analysis and in legal interpretation. In other words, an appeal mechanism helps the system to make decisions by establishing precedents. The third reason is justice. The denial of refugee status has grave consequences. because human errors occur in any decision-making process, it should be normal to have an appeal process to offset the fact that decisions are made by a single person. The fourth reason is political. By not establishing the refugee appeal division, the federal government is going against the will of Parliament and the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.

The Convention relating to the Status of Refugees was adopted by the United Nations in 1951. According to this convention, Canada cannot directly or indirectly return refugees to a country where they will be persecuted. Article 33 sets out the responsibilities of states for protecting refugees:

No Contracting State shall expel or return ("refouler") a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.

Although the definition is limited, it is nonetheless a major legal component.

Refugees find themselves in very difficult situations and are very vulnerable. They have left a situation where their lives are in danger. Often they do not understand French or English. They arrive in a precarious economic position. The Bloc Québécois is dismayed by the lack of justice shown by the Department of Citizenship and Immigration when dealing with refugees since the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, Bill C-11, came into force in 2001.

Previously, two panel members would hear refugee claims. Only one member had to rule in favour of the refugee's request for asylum in order for it to be approved. Now, with only one member, there are many shortcomings and a great deal of injustice takes place because quite often there is not the balanced view that prevails when two people make a decision. The former chairperson of the Immigration and Refugee Board, Peter Showler, confirmed before the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration that:

Single-member panels are a far more efficient means of determining claims. It is true that claimants will no longer enjoy the benefit of the doubt currently accorded them with two-member panels...

Mr. Showler also said:

However, any perceived disadvantage is more than offset by the creation of the refugee appeal division, the RAD, where all refused claimants and the minister have a right of appeal on RAD decisions.

The Bloc Québécois believed that these increases toughened the requirements that refugee claimants had to meet and made it more difficult for immigrants to enter the country. Still, we felt that the refugee appeal division balanced the loss of two-member panels. That is why we voted against this bill. However, we asked that the refugee appeal division be reviewed.

It is difficult to know what an appeal division would cost, as such a division has never been set up. However, we do know that the human costs would be much higher than the financial costs. Considering that the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration and the various components have financial resources of some $116 million for 2006-07, the annual costs of the RAD represent only 7% of the total budget. When we look at the costs of the appeal division, we must take into account the savings it generates.

This political inaction must not be allowed to continue, because there is an urgent need for the refugee appeal division. It is unacceptable that this appeal division is not yet in place in 2007.

In my riding alone, I employ someone who spends 40 hours a week working on these extremely important, time-consuming cases, which I would describe as “humanitarian cases”. Most of the people who come to see us would be entitled to be heard by the government, through the refugee appeal division.

What is more, on December 14, 2004, the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration adopted the following motion:

The Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration requests that the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration implement the Refugee Appeal Division or advise the Committee as to an alternative proposal without delay.

Every committee member from the Conservative Party voted in favour of the motion. We do not understand the delay in implementing an effective refugee appeal division. Furthermore, in April 2005, the Conservative Party published a report on a national consultation on Canada's immigration system. It recommended reviewing the appeal process. There is no real appeal process. The refugee appeal division has to be set up. Decisions have to be made by more than one person.

However, the previous minister did not show any willingness to implement this appeal division. This safety net is very important because we cannot accept that failed refugees are denied the opportunity to seek permission from the Federal Court, Trial Division, to request a judicial review. Currently permission is granted in a very small number of cases, roughly 4% of the time.

In closing, many people have called for a refugee appeal division for a number of years now. The Bloc Québécois has called for one a number of times and it is certainly not alone in doing so. Even before the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act came into effect the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights was calling for such an appeal division. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has always felt it was necessary to have an appeal mechanism.

In December 2004, the United Nations Committee against Torture condemned Canada for still not having a refugee appeal division. The Canadian Council for Refugees has also repeatedly spoken to the need for an appeal division. That is why I am asking all my colleagues in this House to support this bill, which will allow greater fairness and greater justice for refugees.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-280 deals with three sections, sections 110, 111 and 171, all of which I think members may very well agree are important additions to the current act.

Would the member assure the House that she has determined that these provisions in fact are already in the act and that the issue here is whether or not the refugee board is able to bring on board and properly train the people necessary to discharge these responsibilities? Is that the issue the member is concerned about?

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. I do believe that this is very important legislation to get the refugee appeal division implemented. I think that the necessary resources are available. Indeed, the resources necessary to hire people and allow them to familiarize themselves with the problems facing refugees can be found.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Laval and the member for Vaudreuil-Soulanges for bringing this legislation to the House. I think it is a very important piece of legislation, as the member has just outlined.

I think it is a very unusual piece of legislation, though, in that to have to debate in this place a bill to implement legislation that has already been passed in this place is a very unbelievable situation. I know that is exactly what this private member's bill does.

Does the member know of any other circumstance wherein the House has actually had to debate a bill to implement a bill that already has been passed in the House? Could she comment on why she thinks Liberal and Conservative governments have refused to obey the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and implement the refugee appeal division?

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

As you know, Mr. Speaker, I am still pretty new in this place, and I do not have the experience that many other members have gained in this House over the past 10, 15, 20 or even 25 years. I am therefore not familiar with every piece of legislation that has been debated in this House. I can however assure the House that, to the best of my knowledge, this is the first time that we are forced to ask that a bill be introduced to implement something the House had already decided, something that had already been approved, passed and enacted.

I wonder why that is. But that is not surprising, coming from either the Liberals or the Conservatives. When in office, they act a certain way. During election campaigns, they act another way: they make promises. And when in opposition, they act differently yet again. So, I am not surprised.

I am proud to say that we in the Bloc Québécois have always stuck to our guns very appropriately and consistently. It would therefore be appreciated if, when in opposition, parties acted the same as they did when in office and, when in office, the same as they did when in opposition.

The Conservative Party took decisions; it supported this bill and the establishment of the refugee appeal division which has not been implemented. That is unfortunate, and I am sorry that such is the case.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Souris—Moose Mountain
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, one of my questions is about looking at what already exists: the pre-removal risk assessment, which is an appeal process, the compassionate and humanitarian grounds process, which is another one, and as well the application to the Federal Court of Canada, which can look at not only the record but the factual situation, as this appeal proposes. We have cases taking two to four years, and this legislation would add yet another layer of time.

Would the member not agree that we should not look at the legislation in isolation? Would the member not agree that we have to look at the whole system and what it will do not only in terms of adding time to the system but in terms of costs as well, costs for the government and the provinces?

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Laval has half a minute to answer.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question, although I wonder why he asked it. It was his party that decided that the refugee appeal division was very important and essential in order for refugees to get answers to their questions as well as their refugee status in order to stay in Canada permanently.

Why did he ask this question when it was his own party that decided it was essential?

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Souris—Moose Mountain
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak in opposition to the private member's bill tabled by the hon. member for Laval.

I appreciate the hon. member's motives in proposing Bill C-280. It is clear that she and her colleagues, and in fact all of us, want to see a refugee system that is fair and efficient as well as compassionate. These qualities are what we, as compassionate people, hope to see in the systems and programs of our government.

Canadians can take pride in our humanitarian, compassionate nature. That is why Canada's new government welcomes refugees, and over 32,000 were welcomed last year. I am sure all members of the House and all Canadians understand Canada's obligation as a member of the global community to provide protection to those in need.

We also understand the importance of having in place a refugee determination system that is fair and consistent in the application of the rules. As recently as last November, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees praised the fairness and quality of Canada's refugee system in being one of the best in the world.

Canadians also see the value in our system. Last October, Ms. Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, appeared before the House Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. I fully recognize that she supports Bill C-280, but it is worth noting what she had to say with respect to the existing system. She stated:

--I think it is fair to say from our perspective that the Canadian refugee system...has a lot to be said for it....One of the great benefits of the Canadian system is that we have invested in a very competent first-level decision process. Rather than wasting time making a first decision that has to be overturned most of the time on the appeal, we have a first-level refugee determination that, generally speaking, is good.

In other words, an applicant for refugee status in Canada can begin the process knowing that at the first-level hearing the members will be generous in listening to claims and deciding them. Applicants actually can make representation and present evidence and of course the matter is determined in accordance with the judicial principles of fairness and justice. This is the first step.

Our system, which earns high praise from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, currently includes a review mechanism for errors that may have been made by the first-level decision maker. In the current system, if an individual's claim for refugee status is denied by the Immigration and Refugee Board, that person may apply for a judicial review of the claim by the Federal Court of Canada. Ordinarily this review proceeds while the claimant is able to remain in Canada, with full social benefits throughout the process.

I should point out that there is a common belief that the court considers only errors in law in determining whether a case will be returned to the IRB for another look. This is not correct. The Federal Court can overturn and has overturned IRB decisions based on errors in finding of fact. The appeal division at the heart of this bill will not in fact be bringing that much more to the applicants in this sense.

When we look at the jurisdiction of the Federal Court, we see that it can do a number of things, including declaring the order invalid, setting it aside, or referring it back for further consideration. Some of the grounds the court looks at are that the first tribunal acted without jurisdiction or beyond its jurisdiction, that it failed to observe a principle of natural justice, procedural fairness or other procedure that it was required by law to observe, that it erred in law, or that it based its decision or order on an erroneous finding of fact made in a perverse or capricious manner or without regard for the material before it. Those are the grounds, along with others, that the Federal Court can consider.

When we look at the section that this private member's bill wishes to bring into place, we note that it allows the appeal division to look at the record, just like the Federal Court can, without calling new evidence, without calling viva voce evidence. This particular tribunal can of course either affirm the decision or refer it back to the first tribunal for further decision, as the Federal Court can; in fairness it can substitute its own decision. When I asked the registrar of the Federal Court whether the number of grounds set out in the Federal Court of Appeal were actually broader or more extensive than the ones the refugee appeal division proposed, the answer was yes, that is correct.

The refugee determination system is noted as being fair and a model for others to use. If a judicial review with the federal court is not successful, the claimant has the right to apply for a pre-removal risk assessment. This process addresses situations where there is new evidence, a change in circumstances, or a concern with respect to danger in terms of removal.

Another avenue available to a failed refugee claimant is provided by the Immigration Refugee Protection Act, and that is on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. This is one that a good percentage of applicants take advantage of for their benefit.

In considering the bill, we must also consider whether opening another level of review, creating yet more processes, will enhance what is already regarded as one of the best and most generous refugee determination systems in the world.

The cost of putting the RAD in operation is estimated to be a minimum of $2 million in start up costs alone and an additional $30 million on an ongoing annual basis to the federal and provincial treasuries. This includes the cost of items such as the provision of health care, legal aid services and other social assistance as necessary.

These are not small sums and we must consider the impact on our partners in the provincial and territorial governments. It is they who bear much of the responsibility for the welfare of refugee claimants while they await the determination of their claims and the hearing of their appeals.

Consider if you will, Mr. Speaker, a study carried out by immigration officials which followed 100 random refugee claimants from 1998 to 2004 and the number of processes that were required from beginning to end.

By 2004, 71 claimants had achieved some kind of resolution, while 29 had not. It took 2.1 years on average from claim to landing as refugees. It took four years on average from claim to landing in other categories, such as humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

It is expected that implementation of the sections of the act dealing with the refugee appeal division would add at least another five months to the refugee determination process. As we all know, that is on a minimal basis, but there will be perhaps a year, nine months or more, added to what already is not functioning as efficiently as it should.

This is of concern. As praiseworthy as our system is, if Canadians express one concern about it, it would be to have less delays in the refugee determination process. All quarters and all parties have expressed this concern.

Indeed, it was the previous Liberal critic who said that she found the current process allowed delays by failed claimants ad infinitum. I might just quote a portion of what was said by the critic:

--I think it's important that when we look at the RAD, we see it not as being off and by itself but within the context of all the other types of appeals to which refused refugee claimants have access. I'm talking about humanitarian and compassionate grounds, I'm talking about risk of return, I'm talking about the Superior Court, and so on.

If I were a refugee claimant who had been refused and I went to the RAD, if the RAD existed, and the RAD told me, no, I couldn't do it, then obviously my next step would be to go on asking someone else, and someone else, and someone else. Because right now that's what the system allows, almost ad infinitum. I would make the suggestion to the committee that when we come to our suggestions and recommendations for the minister and the House on the role of the RAD and whether the RAD should exist, we should put it in the context of all the appeals that are possible for refused refugee claimants. We should try to bring some kind of homogeneity and logic to the whole system of appeals on behalf of the refugee claimants.

The acting chief administrator of the Federal Court of Canada administration services said he agreed 100% with that aspect of it.

There was some mention made about two members being better than one, but in tracking the decisions of a two member board, less than 1% of the cases resulted in a split decision. The question now is, when we take those factors into account, that alone is sufficient basis for implementation.

I am sure all hon. members understand that when Parliament passed the Immigration Refugee Protection Act, it gave government the authority to decide when to implement these sections of legislation. It did so by making the sections come into force by governor in council resolution. The bill proposes to sidestep that and to make it effective on a sooner basis.

Canadians trust the government and the governing party's judgment. Canada's new government is listening to Canadians. It listened to Canadians who wanted to see funding increase for immigrants and refugees by adding $307 million more to services that help them adapt to life in Canada. It also increased the budget by 25%.

Canadians would be right to question whether a fourth avenue for appeal would make the system any fairer, especially when they are already seeing some people in the system for many, many months, and even years in some cases.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Omar Alghabra Mississauga—Erindale, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I rise in the House for the first time in 2007, allow me to take a moment to wish you and my honourable colleagues a successful and productive year serving Canadians. It appears that 2007 will be another year filled with excitement and political drama.

I also want to extend my wishes particularly to the residents of my riding of Mississauga—Erindale who just over a year ago elected me as their new MP. I thank them for their ongoing support and wish them a peaceful and joyous 2007.

I am pleased to speak to private member's Bill C-280 that is intended to reaffirm some of the clauses of the existing Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and calls for immediate enforcement of an appeal mechanism for failed refugee claimants. I totally agree with the intent of the bill and will be supporting it.

Canada has a long tradition and a compassionate history of receiving refugees from around the world, refugees who are escaping unfair persecution and severe injustices, and are seeking a new and peaceful life. Canadians recognize that welcoming legitimate refugees is not a feel good exercise, but a right and moral thing to do as a country which believes in the principles of equality, fairness, opportunity and justice. Also, a privileged country like ours has obligations under international treaties to contribute to providing relief in the global refugee crisis.

Canada is one of the very few countries in the world that has made a conscious decision to take every refugee claimant very seriously. Claimant applications are first reviewed by a quasi-judicial refugee board where each case is examined based on its own merit and circumstances.

Currently, if a refugee application is rejected, the applicant is entitled to apply for a federal judicial review. A pre-removal risk assessment is also conducted to ensure that circumstances that led to the negative decision have not changed. However, under the existing Immigration and Refugee Protection Act there are clauses that allow for the creation of an appeal process that would enable failed claimants to have their applications reviewed and have a negative decision re-examined.

Bill C-280 is intended to reaffirm the need for the installation of such a process and urges the government to implement it immediately. The decision to accept or reject a refugee application is extremely serious. It must examine the reality and the merit of the application in an objective and thoughtful way. The consequences of such procedures could have a life or death implication and we as a country have accepted our responsibility in affording fairness and justice to all applicants. By proceeding with this appeal mechanism we can assure that our responsibility as a government and as a country has been fulfilled in a just and verifiable way to the people who seek our help.

It is worth noting here that the Conservative Party has been exhibiting very little compassion and understanding to the real humanitarian issues of immigrants and refugees. We just witnessed that today where it is reluctant to implement a clause that already is on our legislative books.

While the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act can benefit from a comprehensive review and modernization, the Conservatives are busy flexing their muscles at vulnerable undocumented workers. While the Citizenship Act is in need of fundamental re-examination, and it appears that thousands of Canadians are at risk of losing their citizenship because of old flaws, the Conservatives are busy reviewing the issue of dual citizenship, wanting to make Canadians feel guilty if they hold dual citizenship.

Not surprisingly, just like we see them behave on most files, the Conservatives appear to be at odds with what is needed and what Canadians expect of them. In their pursuit of holding onto power, the Conservatives and the Prime Minister have been humbled and have had to appear that they have changed their mind on many issues. Canadians will not be fooled. They want to see real action with substantive measures.

Canadian voters are much more sophisticated than the Conservatives give them credit for and we will be closely monitoring how the minority Conservative government proceeds with immigration and citizenship reforms. Canadians expect genuine and sincere efforts to improve our systems for the benefit of all Canadians.

Let me pause here to remind the Conservatives that we, the opposition parties, have the responsibility to evaluate and analyze how they govern, while it is their responsibility to govern according to what Canadians expect of them. We have been witnessing recently in the news that someone must frequently remind the Conservatives of their role and remind the Prime Minister that he is the leader of a country, not just the Conservative Party, and as such must govern responsibly for all Canadians.

I must take this opportunity, while debating the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, to express the urgent need for evaluating the security certificate process contained in that legislation. Many have been arguing that this process contains inherent, unjust and unfair procedures that can easily destroy lives without the necessary checks and balances. The Supreme Court is currently examining this tool and many Canadians are disheartened by the Conservatives attitude which is unwilling to compromise and accept the need for reform.

There are currently three security certificate detainees at the Kingston facility who are expressing their despair with a hunger strike. Mahmoud Jaballah, Mohammad Mahjoub and Hassan Almrei have been on a hunger strike for about 60 days. Various human rights organizations have written to the Minister of Public Safety urging him to ensure that medical aid is provided to these detainees and that he take immediate action to resolve this hunger strike. I urge the government to heed their call and demonstrate a real commitment to genuine reforms. As the case of Maher Arar has taught us, stubborn security procedures that do not receive appropriate checks and balances do not make us any safer and could in fact endanger the lives of Canadians.

I will be voting in favour of Bill C-280 with the hopes of sending it to committee where it can be carefully examined. Some may argue that it is in need of some minor adjustments such as ensuring that the department has prepared the capacity and resources needed to establish an efficient and effective appeal mechanism. These changes are mechanical or technical in nature and can be adjusted for in committee.

This bill is not asking us to introduce anything new or change our procedures drastically. It is only reaffirming what is already on our legislative books. There are probably many reasons why these clauses have not yet been applied, but it is hard to deny the intent and the objectives of this bill. Stakeholders and human rights advocates have been calling for the need to strengthen and reform our refugee application examination process. This step will further enhance the transparency and credibility of our system.

I call upon my colleagues across all party lines to vote in favour of sending this bill to committee. In a country where we pride ourselves on championing justice and equality, we must not turn our back on implementing a process that would ensure the application of justice. Not only do we want to pursue the application of justice, but we must also be seen as doing everything we can in that pursuit.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure today to speak to Bill C-280, an act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, introduced by the member for Laval, no doubt in close collaboration with the member for Vaudreuil-Soulanges. I thank them for taking this initiative and indicate to them that New Democrats strongly support the bill.

However, the private member's bill, a bill to implement a bill that was already fully debated in the House and in the other place and that received royal assent, should never have been necessary. It is unbelievable that the House should have to revisit legislation, passed after a full debate, to call on the government to implement the provisions of the law in Canada. However, that is just what the bill does, and it is sadly necessary because the current Conservative government refuses to implement the law of the land and the former Liberal government and the former Liberal ministers of citizenship and immigration, the members for Bourassa, York West and Eglinton—Lawrence, all directly refused to implement the law of the land.

The bill before us today would implement the sections of the current Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, or IRPA, pertaining to the establishment and operation of the Refugee Appeal Division, or what we commonly call the RAD.

IRPA, including these sections related to the RAD, was passed in Parliament in 2001. It is the law of the land. However, Liberals and now Conservatives have decided that they know better than Parliament, despite their participation in the legislative process in Parliament, and that they can ignore the decisions made here. I believe that kind of decision making shows contempt for Parliament and for the law.

We should not need to have this debate. The implementation of the Refugee Appeal Division should have been done years ago. It should be up and running.

I want to be on the record. I want to give officials and the Department of Citizenship and Immigration this notice. After an election, should I be in a position of responsibility in government, and I am an optimist by nature, as the minister of citizenship and immigration, I expect the department's file, with a detailed plan to implement the provisions of the existing Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and the Refugee Appeal Division and with the accumulated dust of years of Liberal and Conservative inaction and contempt blown off it, to be on my desk the moment I walk into the office. If I am ever in that position of being minister, I will, as the first act of my time in office, implement the Refugee Appeal Division. I have made this commitment publicly many times. It is the only possible decision, the only possible action, if one respects the law, if one respects Parliament and if one is concerned for fairness and justice for refugees in Canada.

What exactly is the Refugee Appeal Division?

The RAD was a compromise reached during debate on the immigration act in 2001. In exchange for reducing the Immigration and Refugee Board, IRB, hearing panels from two people to one, MPs agreed to establish the RAD to ensure there was an appeal of errors. It was to be the fail-safe. The only appeal of a decision of a refugee claim by the IRB in our system is to apply for leave to appeal in the Federal Court, and only 15% of claimants that apply for leave to appeal are granted an appeal by the court.

The RAD was, and is, a key ingredient of a fair and just refugee process. It is a paper-screening process, and it is not expensive. The former Liberal government estimated the cost at $2 million to establish it and $8 million a year to operate it. These figures have recently been jacked up in estimates from the Conservatives, but remain very low in terms of the overall immigration program.

The Canadian Council for Refugees, the key organization working on refugee issues in Canada, which is made up almost every refugee serving agency and organization in Canada, has taken a strong stand on the need for the Refugee Appeal Division and on the miscarriage of justice that the failure to implement it represents.

Back on June 28, 2006, Amy Casipullai, its vice-president, said:

Accountable government means respecting the laws passed in Parliament by the elected representatives of Canadian citizens. Yet for the past four years, the Canadian government has been flouting the law that gives refugee claimants a right to appeal. As a result, contrary to the will of Parliament, the Canadian government has been deporting people whose refugee claim was determined by a single fallible human being, with no right of appeal on the merits.

Peter Showler, the former chairperson of the Immigration and Refugee Board, has said:

Refugee decisions are often very difficult to make, particularly when assessing the credibility of the refugee claimant....The government’s failure to implement the Refugee Appeal Division is profoundly undemocratic and some genuine refugees have undoubtedly been lost in the asylum shuffle. This is not just an issue about legal process. In the refugee business bad policy destroys individual lives.

“Destroys individual lives” is a strong statement from someone who understands the refugee process inside out because he ran a key part of it for years.

I want to point out that in this case “destroy” must be taken literally because a wrong decision in a refugee case can return someone to a situation where they may be killed. That is why we cannot take this legislation lightly and why we have to ensure the best possible system is in place. We cannot rest on our laurels.

We will hear in this debate, from the government benches, that Canada has the best refugee system in the world, that we resettle thousands of refugees each year, that the United Nations has repeatedly applauded Canada for its refugee work. That is all true, but it does not excuse us from addressing the flaws in our system. It does not excuse us from making our system even fairer or more just. It does not excuse our government from obeying our laws or respecting the will of Parliament.

Even though it has honoured Canada for our refugee work, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees has criticized the lack of an appeal. Here is what the UN High Commissioner for Refugees wrote to the Liberal member for Bourassa in May 2002, when he was minister of citizenship and immigration, after he announced that the RAD would not be implemented:

UNHCR considers an appeal procedure to be a fundamental, necessary part of any refugee status determination process. It allows errors to be corrected, and can also help to ensure consistency in decision-making. Canada, Italy and Portugal are the only industrialized countries which do not allow rejected asylum seekers the possibility to have first instance decisions reviewed on points of fact as well as points of law. In the past, a measure of safeguard was provided by the fact that determinations could be made by a two-member panel, with the benefit of the doubt going to the applicant in case of a split decision. With the implementation of IRPA on June 28th, this important safeguard will be lost.

And it was lost.

Last November the Most Rev. Brendan M. O'Brien, Archbishop of St. John's, and a member of the Episcopal Commission for Social Affairs of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, appeared before the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. At that time he stated:

—it is hard for us to understand how governments can fail to implement the appeal provisions of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and not face some form of meaningful censure. It was on the promise of a fair and timely appeal system that the legislation carried. The executive branch's failure to fulfill this promise is a sign of obdurate defiance of democratic authority. In the absence of an effective right to appeal, many parishes and denominational congregations are placed in the position of having to make agonizing decisions of whether or not to grant sanctuary. As other witnesses I'm sure have testified...it is very rare that churches choose to grant sanctuary, notwithstanding the many requests they receive. They do so only after close examinations of the facts before them, through an extensive process of communal deliberation. Granting sanctuary, then, for these churches is an exercise of their informed conscience that must take into account the prospect of breaking the law, risking fines and imprisonment, or violating conscience and the imperative of hospitality. When all other recourse has failed, I think granting sanctuary is a way to call the government's attention to an exceptional injustice and a way to denounce a specific and unacceptable failure of the immigration system in faithfulness to the Lord's own call to hospitality as justice. We recommend, therefore, that the committee unanimously call upon the government to implement a rigorous, transparent, and timely appeal system, as required in the act.

The argument has been made by Liberal and Conservative governments that our refugee appeal process is too complicated and that the RAD will only further complicate the system. I do not accept that argument. The RAD is a necessary level of appeal against an incorrect decision by a single member of the IRB. Having a functioning appeal at this level will stop some cases from going to the Federal Court. Having a hearing at the RAD will be far cheaper and less time consuming to the system than having a full blown court appeal in Federal Court. Having a functioning RAD appeal will ensure that fewer failed claimants, denied and appeal and denied leave to appeal in Federal Court, will disappear underground. It will also ensure that fewer refugees will end up in sanctuary in churches in Canada, supported by communities that believe, communities that know, they did not have a fair hearing in our refugee determination system. Rather than complicating the system, I believe the RAD will simplify the system.

This debate should not be necessary. The government should act immediately to implement the provisions of the current Immigration and Refugee Protection Act with regard to the refugee appeal division. Justice and fairness demand it.